The Horror Honeys: Motivational Growth: Liono Posters and Japadogs for the cool kids

Motivational Growth: Liono Posters and Japadogs for the cool kids

A Head Honey Interview

LAST May, the Honey's in their fledging form attended Crypticon in Seattle WA, between our whirlwind of forums, panels, excessive drinking and fast food consumption, we decided (rather randomly) to see a screening of a film we knew nothing about...  Motivational Growth.  Maybe it was the Sega Genesis style opening cartoon sequences, maybe it was the soulful monologue about poop, delivered while pooping... regardless, we were instantly hooked and tweeted the fuck out of it...  Don Thacker, the writer/director/editor of the film sought us out after the dust had settled and gave me a copy of this crusty gem... and after watching it a second and third time, I couldn't hold it in any longer... I had questions for The Mold.  

HH -  The clips at the beginning of the film... they all look like you shot them yourself... how did you choose what to include?  How much of your shooting time was taken up with filming these snippets?

DT -   Each one of Kent's TV shows (Kent is the name of Ian's TV, remember) was crafted individually outside of the context of the film proper. Officer Zygor: Alien Cop, for instance, has a 32 page pilot episode written. It was important to me that the world Ian lives in have a structure outside of Ian. The TV shows were one way of doing that. I wrote a ton and cherry picked the bits that fit when it came to integrating them into the scenes.

I chose what to keep where based firstly on the ideas Kent needed to convey (Kent speaks solely through his shows), secondly on tone and relevance to the situation and finally on actual feasibility. Officer Zygor: Alien Cop has many locations, and was much more complex to shoot than, say, Tommy Katakana's Katakitchen. Also, there were a few TV shows that were replaced just before production started for practical reasons. An axed show called El Demonia Caza Trophios De Los Hombres, for example - a Mexican super-melodrama about a woman who seduced and ate man - was too hard to cast quickly, would have included a breast shot and would have required a whole living room set on its own.

As for time, I think we shot a total of 3 days on the TV stuff. 3 days of 28. The locker sequence on Zygor took one of those days, we picked up some more Zygor bits over 12 or so hours scattered here and there and then, on the final day of shooting, we shot a 25 setup day with a constant rotation of sets. Rae Deslich, my production designer, would build a set, let us at it and between takes be building another one. When we'd move from one set, she'd have her team tear it down and build a third where it stood. It went like this for, like, 18hrs. We shot 85% of the TV stuff in that one day. It was hard, but exhilarating. Rae is amazing.

HH -  Written, directed AND edited by Don?  DO ALL THE THINGS!!!  Why the need for such control?? Do you have trust issues that our readers need to know about?  Or is it strictly an "it's my baby" kind of deal?

DT - It's neither trust issues (sorry readers) or an "it's my baby" thing - I actually hired two editors. 

One of them took ten weeks with the piece and produced a first draft sucked totally dry of the weird, offset feeling that defines Motivational Growth. Everything was played for gags. Contrary to what was written and shot, humor was used as a focus rather than a punctuation. It was the Three Stooges version of Motivational Growth. After ten weeks and countless discussions, I had to take it back. I had gone to LA to review the work and had to fly back with my movie in my backpack. Weird stuff.

I then brought the film to a sort of one-stop-shop in Chicago (where it was filmed). They were going to do the sound mix, compositing, editorial (with my supervision), finishing and final delivery. They went bankrupt months into the work, taking our post budget with them.

After fundraising what we could of the lost amount, I took a pass at the edit. I'm not an editor, and I'd have loved to lean on an editor for this, but at this point we'd blown money on the slapstick looney-toons version and lost budget to this one-stop-shop, so I kind of just needed to power through it.

I've got ten minutes I'd cut. Not from one place, but I could tighten it up a bit, I think. It's a learning process.

HH -  How did you choose the amazing video game sequence for the film opening?  It made me so nostalgic for Sega Genesis...what was your inspiration?

DT - I didn't choose that. I made it. Well, I wrote it. It's for a game called Starr Mazer which I want to make. I make games with Pixeljam when I'm not making films. We've just launched a pay-what-you-want bundle, the Pixeljam Octology. Wrote and directed the commercial for it as well!

Anyway, one of my dreams is to make Starr Mazer - a 16-32bit point and click adventure game with SHMUP combat sections. It's about an awesome pilot named Brick M. Stonewood (the M stands for Metal \m/) getting roped into an intergalactic invasion adventure.

Starr Mazer is Space Quest meets Blazing Lazers. It's Gate of Thunder with a fully voiced story. My favorite game console of all time is the Turbo Duo, and Starr Mazer is fictionally released on the Vikingr99 Super System, basically a Turbo Grafx/PC Engine knockoff.

HH - Giving the TV the name "Kent"'s not the first name that would spring to mind, and it's meaning is super why Kent?  Who is Kent to you?  Is there a real live Kent?  

DT -  Kent 

Also, Ian wears an "I <3 Toxic Waste" t-shirt throughout the film 

HH - The set dec... that apartment... just amazing... and so GROSS.  Tell us about your crew!  

DT - The production design was done by Rae Deslich who is just about the best person on earth to hire for a film like Motivational Growth. She had a team of art girls (and a guy!) who were responsible for the dec and paint and upkeep of Ian's apartment.

The entire film is shot on two sets, the living room and the bathroom. They were both sets - fully constructed in a warehouse in the warehouse district of Chicago. The bathroom was unique in that it needed to be 4.5 feet off of the ground to fit the puppeteers. Every time you see Ian walk down the living room hallway and into the bathroom, we've had to cut, pick the hallway up and move it across this warehouse and tack it on to the bathroom. 

I didn't want the film to become visually boring, a real threat for a film that takes place entirely in two rooms of an apartment,  so my DP, Bliss Holloway, and I worked out a visual language that had the camera floating and flying all over the place. Every scene was blocked and shot as a wide flying master before we shot coverage, so every scene feels unique and fluid. The camera was free to move, sometimes even upside-down, because the set was built so that all walls in the living room, and all but one wall in the bathroom, were wild (they could be moved/removed at will). We eventually even moved the one wall that was supposed to stay static to hold the whole set together. Some of the walls even came apart in sections. Every time you see the bathroom ceiling, it's the same ceiling piece moved around to accommodate camera. :)

As for gross, the set was actually very clean. We had an actor in it for 28 days in various states of undress (those tighty whiteys!!) and it needed to be clean for safety reasons. Everything you see, from the crusty food to the moldy bathtub, is art. Such an amazing art department.

On the people tip, costumes were handled with 90s brilliance by Mallory Sabian. That girl is brilliant. I gave her my ideas and set her loose. Trust your artists, noob directors - it always pays.

The next time someone goes all gooey about how glamorous
makeup artistry is, I will remember this photo.  This is glamour.
Makeup was handled by "Monster" Midian Crosby. Ian's makeup was meticulously crafted, even to the two bits of Cheezit stuck in his beard. I went over to Midian's station one day to find her customizing Cheezit crumbs so they would be uniform. Genius, this lady.

I'd choose suicide over cleaning that bathroom too...
HH -  I noticed a small logic hole...Ian's apartment is a DISASTER, but under the sink...a plethora of cleaning products...what the what?

DT -  He has a few. He tries to off himself with them, remember? There are a handful of half-used bottles down there. I imagine they were left by the previous tenant. Ian would neither use them, nor throw them out.

HH -  Ok... level with me... the poop monologue... it might just be the most brilliant monologue I've ever heard from a modern film... I sat there not once, not twice, but three times and said aloud: "WOW.  That was fucking amazing.".    How... can you share the prose process on that one?

DT - This is so great to hear. This is a huge payoff to me. I had cut that monologue from the film until the very last minute. Literally, a few days before sending the film out for festival dupe, I added it back in. 

I'd caved to the normals, you see. Too many people told me it was too harsh to have a guy talking about poop, directly at the camera, while pooping, in the opening ten minutes of a film. I always felt it set Ian's tone, and when I wrote it I wrote it very intentionally. I wanted the viewer to question whether or not this guy was worth sticking with. I wanted him to be sardonic, gross and too up-front with the viewer. I wanted him to be bitter and make fun of the audience a bit while also being just sad enough to hook you even just a little. 

I wanted that because I wanted you to love him by the end, even though by the end he's still not Brad Pitt or anything. He's still sort of gross at the end, but he's a million times better than at the beginning.

I'm so happy I put it back in. I call it the Ian Test, now. If you can't get through the first 12 minutes of the film, you fail the test. You don't get to experience the payoff. Some viewers (few, but they're out there) totally fail that test. Ian loses them in that monologue and they never recover. 

At some point you need to draw a line and say "all of the cool kids are over here on this side of the line" and just stand up for it. Even if your side of the line is mostly Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns, six packs of Burple and a glow in the dark Liono poster from Thundercats. You just need to big up your chest and hope people cross that line.

HH -   Filming Ian's death scene... HOW... It looks amazing... and PAINFUL!  Can you share any secrets?

DT - Yeah. It's a stunt. But not like you think. That's actually Adrian DiGiovanni falling. No stunt double. He makes that whole fall himself. No cables or anything. The movie magic is that the bathtub isn't a bathtub at all. It's a painted foam portion of a bathtub - only the portion that you can see - and the rest is stunt pads. There are three dudes where the bathtub should be, hidden by the bathroom half-wall, hockey-checking Ian as he flies into them from falling from the sink. Once he's flung back, he does a good old WWF style punch-the-cabinet-and-overact thing with the cabinet door which looks and sounds super painful but was total pantomime and then we cut to a different setup, with Adrian slamming his head onto the ground and spitting blood.

I wanted this in one wide shot so you could react. You could see the whole fall and it would be really visceral and, no matter what you thought of Ian before this, you were going to be on his side after a fall like that. Anyone taking that kind of fall deserves at least a minute of your time.

We hired Aaron Crippen for the stunt work. Go to his IMDB page. That dude's a big deal. Batman. Man of Steel. We didn't skimp on safety, even though the film was nothing compared to the budgets he's used to working on. He was amazing, and treated our set just as he would a Chris Nolan set. It was awesome, and our people were safe.

For the time-remapped version of the fall, it was Adrian DiGiovanni hanging from the ceiling with cables as we slowly moved the cameras around his body. We couldn't afford actual high speed cameras. We faked it.

HH - Have you ever had a landlord like Box?  Or an uncle?  He reminds me of an uncle someone I know has... SHUT UP.

DT - Box is actually a recurring character in my writing. I first wrote him as a pawn shop owner in this tweeny halloween movie I may still make one day. It takes place in the same universe as Motivational Growth (all of Imagos's productions take place in one giant cogent universe) and is a few years before he buys the Brightmore Apartments, where Ian lives.

For Motivational Growth he's played by Pete Giovagnoli who won the part the instant he delivered his first line at Box during the audition. This was complicated somewhat by the fact that Pete Giovagnoli is only 5'6", a full foot shorter than Box. A combination of creative costuming, custom set extensions (AKA the "Box box") and forced perspective sells his hugeness. Every time he enters Ian's apartment we have him walk up the the camera and post for a few lines of dialog to fill the screen up and remind the audience that he's huge.

I've never known anyone like Box. Perhaps that's why I liked writing for him. He was unleashed. I could totally play with his language and character without feeling like I was doing a disservice to anyone.

HH -   FX question... how did you make "The Mold"?  Or was "The Mold" always there?

DT - The Mold was created, manufactured and puppeteered by TolinFX out of Pittsburgh. I picked Steve Tolin because he'd been doing effects for an awesome run of The Lieutenant of Inishmore as a stage play and was getting amazing reviews. Not only was his movie work good, but this Inishmore set went for, like, 200 shows at a time and was full of practical effects. I knew we didn't have time to mess around, and I couldn't blow a day working and reworking an effect, so I needed someone who was not only massively creatively talented, but who could provide all of our special effects on time and in as few takes as possible. Steve, as you can see from the finished film, nails it.

I described The Mold to him, and gave him a few poorly drawn thumbnails and he went to work. After we'd settled on a look, he commissioned a team to build it with him and delivered a 12 mechanism cable controlled puppet. Jeff Waltrowski , a talented filmmaker in his own right, and "Monster" Midian Crosby were his second and third puppeteers. Together, those three brought The Mold to life.

He's an ingenious collaboration of painted latex, hard plastics, cables and talent.

HH -   How did you decide who should be the voice of "The Mold"? Did you have a voice actor shortlist? A "dream Mold"?  Can you tell me how many people were on it?  Can you tell me who said no?

DT - I wanted Jeffrey Combs from the start. There are bits in there that were written specifically for Jeff's particular brand of awesome. He turned in a better performance than I had hoped for and was an amazingly professional, cordial and respectful artist. He's worked with the masters, and treated me no different than any of them. Amazing, since I'm nobody. The list was pretty much him.

I had a backup plan to move to Brad Douriff, but we never did any sort of investigation as to whether or not his agent would even return a phone call. I'm a massive Brad Douriff fan, but I don't think that the voice of Chucky would have been right coming out of The Mold. 

We never needed to figure it out. Jeff called me directly after reading the script (yes, we did the requisite agent to producer to lawyer to NDA to blah blah blah stuff), and he said he loved it and would love to do it.

Not only was I going to make this film, but I was going to work with one of my favorite actors to do it. Epic.

HH -   It might just have been the drink, but "The Mold" seems to be an extension of Ian's guilt and self-loathing... regret about things left unsaid, floors left unwashed... how did "The Mold" take shape in your mind?

DT - You're a good deal of the way to the answer. Really. Give yourself one point.

The Mold is, in reality, just a chunk of fungus in direct contact with a corpse. It will, over time, devour that corpse. That's what mold does.

To Ian, however, The Mold represents something very dark. As you said, Ian's guilt. His self-loathing. Everything wrong about life. Lies. Deceits. Hurt and pain. And it promises answers and only ever offers more promises. It is formed directly of Ian's self-hate. At one point it's yelling to Ian about how Ian will become a mess of filth and detritus begging for escape - The Mold is talking about itself. About what Ian has created in it.

HH -   The corpse...amazing.  Speaking as an FX artist and someone with a piece of a forensic anthropology degree...I loved this effect...what was your reference material?  Tell me about your FX team.

DT - As stated above, TolinFX was amazing. The corpse itself is basically an $8 skeleton from a Halloween store with days of work put in on it to make it look like an actual decomposing corpse.

I know that Steve Tolin and Jeff Waltrowski looked into corpse farms - these places where you can donate your body to after death and they put it out in different locations and situations and research its decomposition - and worked to make something wholly realistic. There is so much in the film that is obviously stylized, and I wanted the corpse to be real. Stark. Leaking disintegrating fatty acids everywhere. I wanted you to be able to smell the thing through the screen.

On that note, for the cutaneous and sub-cutaneous skin/fat layer they used bone meal. Bone meal, for your readers, is organic material (normally bones, but also other stuff) that has been digested by the same acids and enzymes you find in an animal stomach. It is poop. It's poop that hasn't gone through an anus, sure, but it's still poop.

And Adrian had to fall into it. Gnarly.

HH -   "Kent" vs "The Mold" -- who has the real power over Ian?  

DT - Neither. Ian has the power. That's sort of the base concept. Ian chooses to follow. Sometimes he follows Kent, others he follows The Mold, but both are inanimate. Both cannot get up and attack Ian. Ian needs to choose. That's his arc. That's his struggle. Both are attractive, both offer something for Ian, neither, in the end, is salvation. Sure, Kent suggests that Ian leave, but Kent can't DO anything about it. That's up to Ian.

HH -   "The Mold" seems to have a Gospel of sorts...Did you do this purposefully?  If you think "The Mold" has a message?

DT - I absolutely did. The Mold is one of the most self-consistent zealous characters that I've ever written. It has a goal, and it is going to get there. It sees itself to be the absolute controller of it's world, and in some ways it's right. The Mold is the great consumer. It devours everything. If it can keep Ian's soul in his body while it devours it then it has succeeded.

HH -  Why "The Mold"...  What motivates you?  

DT - When you're born and you take your first breath you establish your internal flora. This is a unique blend of bacteria, particulates, organic matter and fungi that will nest in your mucus membranes, intestines, stomach and glands until you die. Then it will eat you.

The most predominant of these flora is a form of aspergillus that is so voluminous on Earth that some biologists question whether or not it might actually be a single meta organism that we live within. 

It is the reason you get infected when you're wounded. Most bacteria have a hard time breaking down cellular structure, but this aspergillus chews through cell walls like nothing and produces waste sugar that attracts everything else. It's pretty much the thing that kills you. It's in you forever. You're breathing it now.

What's more terrifying than that?

This was the part of the film that made us all go..."euuughhh"

Ian is the owner of his own decisions, but also the engine of his own potential destruction. Everything he needs to go forward, or die rotting, is within him.

HH -   What motivation would "The Mold" have for you? 

DT - To finish up this physics thriller I'm writing (think Altered States meets Phase IV meets Beyond the Black Rainbow). And to leave rotting meat everywhere. And to go visit the Horror Honeys in BC ASAP for Japadogs, drinks and an afternoon of horror.


You can connect with Don and The Mold on Twitter and on Facebook.  Motivational Growth is currently making the film festival circuit, and I'm pretty sure that in no time at all, Don will be too big of a cheese to snarf Japadogs with me, but a girl can dream, right? 

See Motivational Growth at these upcoming Horror Festivals and Cons!
Official Selection 2013 Another Hole in the Head Film Festival

Official Selection 2013 Housecore Horror Film Festival

Official Selection 2013 Fright Night Horror Film Festival

Official Selection 2013 GenCon Film Festival
Official Selection 2013 South Texas Underground Film Festival